Apocalypse Close: Chapter Two: Moonbat meets the Great Lobachevsky

It was late in the evening when, after many false turnings round the labyrinth of South Hampstead, the taxi finally delivered George Moonbat at his destination.

At the top of Revelation Drive, opposite Babylon Gardens, behind Cassandra Crescent, was Apocalypse Close, a loop of  four-storey Victorian buildings backing onto Hampstead Heath. At the top end, on the bend of the loop, stood Number Four, belonging to Tom and Vanessa Huntingdon.

The ghosts of Hampstead past were recorded on a faded palimpsest listing former inhabitants, preserved in an enamel-framed plaque inside the front door beside the antique bell push. Obscure outliers of the Bloomsbury set; academic refugees from Central Europe; angry young men, drug-happy sixties art students; Trotskyist social workers; more Central Europeans (plumbers this time, rather than philosophers); all these and more had passed through Apocalypse Close. Now gentrification had finally overtaken this lost corner of North London, and the building had reverted to its original role as a town house for the comfortably off, which – these days, in the twenty-first century – means those with several hundred million in the bank … or somewhere.

It had been the fate of this corner of London to attract dreamers, romantics, builders of brave new worlds – and the present owners of Number Four, despite (or possibly because of) their immense wealth, were no exception. Others had dreamt and passed on, leaving little but memoirs donated to the local library, and occasionally a blue plaque announcing their brief presence. But the current occupants weren’t like that.

Tom Huntingdon was not one to let his pile of steaming lucre lie dormant. His millions flowed and gathered mass, like a snowball down a ski slope, like a melting glacier in springtime, sometimes forming unexpected picturesque lakes which glinted in the  Alpine sun, beckoning invitingly to those who are fascinated by deep, inexhaustible pools of money.

Tom had amassed his millions indulging in an arcane activity known as hedge funding – a modern version of the enclosure movement – by which large quantities of wealth were fenced off from useful activity and reserved for the enrichment of those who understood the mysteries of modern economics.

Religions have always made it their business to guard jealously their central mysteries, and modern economics and its associated pseudosciences are no exception. To ensure that the mysteries remained intact and known only to a select few, those whose job it was to understand and explain them were enrolled in the Great Game. Newspapers were no longer bought and sold by ambitious tycoons like Monopoly cards. Politicians and editors could no longer be bent to the will of their masters by offers of  weekends on yachts in the Med. But influence was still there to be bought, if discreetly and at arm’s length. Charitable trusts were founded to finance think tanks. Professorial chairs were funded  in prestigious universities. And, by a thousand similar subtle indirect means, were courted, flattered and cajoled those who were in a position to influence the course of  Tom Huntingdon’s quest – the unending search for ever more absurdly unimaginable quantities of loot.

* * *

“George! What ever have you been doing?” Vanessa exclaimed, staring at the bruised, dishevelled figure on the doorstep.

Moonbat responded to the motherly tones of concern and reproach with a wan smile. “It’s nothing. An unfortunate encounter with a rake this morning”.

“Oh really George, don’t tell me you were weeding the garden while waiting for the bus!”

“Not that kind of rake. Rake as in wastrel, philanderer … Hogarth.”

“Oh dear. You’ve been campaigning. It wasn’t Galloway again, was it?”

George waved his free hand in a dumb, pleading gesture to be allowed to come in, put down his rucksack in some warm welcoming guestroom, tend his wounds, and head for the drinks cabinet.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, his black eye salved and his spectacles straightened, George was led by the ever-motherly Vanessa onto the patio, where the other guests, having long finished their sumptuous (though organic and almost entirely vegetarian) meal, were lounging in a variety of handwoven ethical ethnic hammocks, sofas and armchairs, nursing their third or fourth after-dinner refresheners, and eagerly, if a little vaguely, discussing the future of the world. She furnished him with a plate of roquette and parsley pastries and a large whisky, and looked round for someone sober, alert and unoccupied to whom she could introduce him.

“George, have you met Stefan? Professor Lobachevsky’s from Austria”.

“Austrélia, Vanessa,” the Professor corrected her curtly, pronouncing the name of his adopted continent in the English fashion. He was wearing a turtleneck sweater – appropriately enough, since he had a head like a turtle – except that a turtle’s head is retractable, while Lobachevsky’s seemed to be glued onto his shoulders. He was clearly not capable of retracting his head – or anything else.

“So you’re a climate scientist? “ hazarded George, wondering how to tackle this somewhat  inert, lithic figure.

“Ye-e-es. On the behévieural side,” replied the antipodean academic. And stopped, leaving George to puzzle out his meaning.

“A big ya pahdn?” said George. Lobachevsky’s mangled attempt to squeeze all Australianism out of his accent had the strange effect (or rather, stringe iffict) on George, of  making him adopt  a caricatural downunder twang himself, as if to compensate.

Lobachevsky stared at George with the look of hatred of one who has spent his life constructing a defensive outer shell to protect his inner feelings of inferiority, only to see it shattered by the first encounter with a being somewhat less inferior than himself. He turned his head as if George had just slapped him, causing the turtleneck sweater and the rest of him to rotate, leaving George facing the antipodean backside of the outback cognitive cognoscento.

Luckily, the awkward silence was broken by a squeaky “Hi George!” and a familiar gangling figure ambled over, a half empty glass in one hand and a homemade custard pie in  the other.

It was Mark Lyingas – his alter ego, his doppelganger, his nemesis. They greeted each other coolly – a simple peck on both cheeks – like members of rival repertory companies. For years now they had been treating each other with icy politeness, each one gallantly conceding precedence to his rival, each eager to acknowledge the other as his John the Baptist.

A few years ago, they had published books simultaneously – one salted with sombre citations from Goethe’s Faust, the other peppered with equally miserable stanzas from Dante’s Inferno. Both had been fervent apostles of renewable energy until, sensing which way the wind was blowing, they had both espoused nuclear as the sole salvation from imminent doom. One had attempted to perform a citizen’s arrest on a war criminal; the other had thrown up over a Danish economist who had adamantly refused to fear the future. One lived in terror, the other in foreboding. Both felt perfectly at home at Apocalypse Close.

After exchanging a few conventional philosophical barbs of mutually assured deconstruction, they drifted apart, and George glid towards one of the few unfamiliar faces around the buffet table.

“Hi, I’m George. I write for the Guardian,” he began. He’d always found the direct approach the most effective.

“Hi, I’m Miranda.”

Her introduction came to an abrupt halt, leaving George wih nothing to say or do, but take in the appearance of his interlocutor.

Miranda was a tall, imposing woman with chiselled features, prominent Mongol  cheekbones, and dyed orange hair swept back from a high forehead. What made her even more striking was her costume. She seemed to be covered in soft mauve scales.

She was an extraterrestrial Amazon from central casting. Her long bony fingers alone were enough to convince you that she wasn’t an elaborate hoax.

Unless of course central casting had a tridactyl giantess on their books.

George stared, fascinated, until the monster broke the silence. Don’t be embarrassed” she mumured in a soft baritone. “Everybody notices, and nobody dares to ask.” She waved the three digits of her right hand in an ambiguous gesture. “Skiing accident.”

Suddenly, George felt the evening was looking promising.

* * *

George awoke the next morning with a familiar whisky-induced hangover and an unfamiliar pain in the region of his left buttock. Slowly, consciousness returned, and he realised where he was, and why he was there. The aimless though animated alcoholic discussions of the previous evening had been but a warmup for the real work today and tomorrow. There would be seminars, presentations, debates and even a summary paper to be published and hyped in his weekly article. A thick black coffee or three from the handy machine next to the bed, and he would be in shape. But first, the strange sensation in his bum – at once numb and stabbing – was bothering him. He staggered over to the wardrobe mirror and twisted his head round to observe his antipodal adiposity.

Three long parallel scratches disfigured his otherwise smooth white skin.

“Bugger,” he thought. “What  a waste.”

He remembered nothing at all.

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18 Responses to Apocalypse Close: Chapter Two: Moonbat meets the Great Lobachevsky

  1. Apocalypse Close must be somewhere near that other celebrated Hampstead Address , Marxmount – where Mrs Dutt- Pauker used to live.

    Do you think she ever invited Tom & Vanessa over – to meet Dr Kiosk and Neville Dreadberg for drinkies?

  2. Foxgoose
    You and I are probably the only ones who remember Mrs Dutt Pauker, one of the characters of the late great Peter Simple.
    Apocalypse Close exists, and can be easily identified from the air. (I once spotted the Huntingdon’s house where I lived in the late 60s on a Ryanair flight from France. The landlady kept a goat – in the garden in summer, and indoors when the weather was bad. Indoors it was tethered to her piano, which was painted pink. I once babysat for the goat, which largely involved stopping it from eating the sheetmusic. Ah – Hamptead.)

  3. Vinny Burgoo says:

    I too remember Mrs Dutt-Pauker. She always looked like she had just sat on something rather surprising, as I recall. And who could forget Dr Heinz Kiosk’s great maxim, ‘We are all guilty!’

    More of the same, please, Geoff, but, if possible can we move back out of London have some more M54 and a bit of A489? No hurry. When you’re ready.

    Also, I recently came across a (real) 19th-century homeopath called Dr Harmer who used to dance like a bear in the grounds of his asylum. Could you work him in somehow?

  4. dearieme says:

    “You and I are probably the only ones who remember Mrs Dutt Pauker”: oh no you ain’t. You’re obviously attracting a readership of elderly curmudgeons, keen to see Mr Mumbat get his comeuppance.

  5. Political satire has been racist since its origins. Terracotta figures from Greek comedy include recognisable racial stereotypes.
    Mrs Dutt Pauker’s name is derived from that of the Indian/Swedish communist Rajni Palme Dutt (whose mother was the great aunt of Swedish PM Olof Palme) and of the Jewish Communist Ana Pauker, unofficial head of the Romanian communist party, described by Time magazine in 1948 (quite falsely) as “the most powerful woman alive”.
    Michael Wharton (Peter Simple of the Telegraph’s “Way of the World” column) who invented Mrs Dutt Pauker “the Hampstead thinker” (and a couple of dozen other wonderfully weird characters) was frequently accused of racism, and of course, calling a leftwing intellectual “Pauker” looks like prima facie anti-semitism.
    Michael Wharton’s real name was Michael Bernhard Nathan.
    The different communist parties of the world welcomed Jews and women (and Indians and Africans) into their ranks long before polite society in Britain.
    One of the more puerile tactics of the transnational organisations like the IPCC, which seek to bypass democratic procedures in imposing their will, is putting third world figures at their head in order to deflect criticism by right-thinking people.
    It’s a funny old world.
    Vinny
    What’s special about the M54? I was in Shropshire/Staffordshire a couple of years ago and loved it, but it hardly felt like the hub of the universe. the A489 as far as I can see starts and ends at Machynlleth. Since Monbiot moved out, the only inhabitant of note that I’ve heard of is SkepticalScience and Guardian writer John Mason, aka John the Rock. Am I missing something?

  6. Otter says:

    Ok, that was quite hilarious. But, just curious…. is Apocalypse Close, nearby to Cthulhu Mansion?

  7. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Geoff, if you squint hard enough the A489 can be interpreted as a diagram of British country life: at one end Craven Arms, an ugly, down-to-earth agricultural town built around a pub, an abattoir and a scruffy independent supermarket, at the other Machynlleth, with its hippies, anti-capitalists, yurts and solar panels, and in the middle somewhere Laura Ashley, purveyor of cosy rural fantasies to middle-class city-dwellers and second-homers.

    But it doesn’t really work. Laura Ashley has moved its HQ elsewhere and, in any case, being a fantasy it should really have been at the opposite end to Machynlleth, with the whole thing pivoting around Craven Arms, the real deal. Plus it would be dishonest to impose a meaning on the A489 without noting that the BNP’s Nick Griffin lives in the middle somewhere. Older country-dwellers might be a bit more racist than urbanites but I don’t think racism belongs in a simple diagram of country life.

    So I’ll own up. The real importance of the A489 is that I live right next to it.

  8. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Good news for the centre of the universe. I’ve just checked and Nick Griffin lives on the A458, not the A489. Phew! A noble road unbesmirched.

  9. Maybe Captain Cook and Lobachevsky’s encounter with Alena Composta will figure in the next…

    http://verdanthopes.blogspot.com/2011/03/tomorrow-belongs-to-us.html

  10. chris says:

    Dr Kiosk; of Utrecht- Whom God forgive. I remember him well. Peter Simple was the only reason I read the Express!

  11. alexjc38 says:

    Genius! In a way, the tridactyll giantess episode reminds me of Ken Russell’s cinematic masterpiece “The Lair of the White Worm”, which I’ve somehow never had the good fortune to actually watch; going by the following rather torrid passage from the original Bram Stoker novel, however, things might not bode well for the unfortunate Mr Moonbat.

    “All her plans were maturing, or had already matured. The Master of Castra Regis was within her grasp. The woman whose interference she had feared, Lilla Watford, was dead. Truly, all was well, and she felt that she might pause a while and rest. She tore off her clothes, with feverish fingers, and in full enjoyment of her natural freedom, stretched her slim figure in animal delight. Then she lay down on the sofa – to await her victim! Edgar Caswall’s life blood would more than satisfy her for some time to come.”

  12. Alex,
    Thanks.
    Ken Russell, Bram Stoker, Peter Simple.. The comparisons are embarrassing..
    I tried to read the Bram Stoker novel once. It’s hard going, and blushmaking for anyone with even a little knowledge of Freud (but then so is Apocalypse Close, I hope).
    I had a look at the trailer from the Russell film. I think I prefer the illustrations to the 1911 edition by Pamela Colman Smith at
    http://home.comcast.net/~pamela-c-smith/Lair.html
    The novel is at Gutenberg. As I remember, there’s a big hole in the plot where a mongoose which is required in Liverpool has been left in India, and someone thas to go half way round the world in a steamship to fetch it, or something. But this seems to be true of most of the truly great bad novels. There’s a scene in King Solomon’s Mines (which Tolkien plundered shamelessly) where the original Gollum character is stuck on the wrong side of the door – locked in instead of locked out, or vice versa.
    It’s easily done, as I’m learning the hard way.

  13. fjpickett says:

    “Dr Kiosk; of Utrecht- Whom God forgive.”

    Chris – I can’t decide if that’s a deliberate conflation or the sort of misremembering that I experience all too often.

    If the former, I apologise, but in case you’re confusing J B Morton and the Express (in better days) with Peter Simple and the Telegraph, I should distinguish Dr Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht from Heinz Kiosk, who I think took himself a bit more seriously.

    If Geoff’s rich seam thins out (which it shows no sign of doing just yet) he could always introduce some red-bearded dwarves. They’d annoy the Hell out of Moonbat.

  14. Chris says:

    Well of course, you’re right;The Telegraph! And of course it was, as you say, Dr Strabimus whom God preserved. Ah well, I have age on my side!
    my first visit of the day is now to Geoffs’ blog. Anybody who pokes fun at Moonbat is on my side.

  15. vigilantfish says:

    I have to confess to being too young – and stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic – to catch all of these political and literary allusions, but I’m enjoying this story mightily.

  16. Vigilantfish
    Glad you like it. It’s very much focussed on England, not simply because I’m English, but because we have specific problems with respect to the global warming movement due to the almost complete agreement of the political parties and the media.
    We’ve also all been reading the same two or three newspapers, and voting for the same two or three parties for literally centuries. (And from comments here, it seems many of us also have fond memories of the same long dead writers).

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